Is there a perfect light for your food photography? In past posts, I have mainly talked about using large lighting modifiers to create a soft light over my subject. I tend to choose softer light, because I think it looks better on my food. Is this the only lighting option? No. Like fashion photography, there are many different types of lighting that you can use on a subject. To get a better understanding of what will fit your style, let's take a closer look at the characteristics of hard and soft light and how they affect your food shot.
With food, you can see the effects of your quality of light in the shadows and the reflective surface of your subject. Let's take a look at a plate of roasted chicken lit with a diffused natural light source.
Here is a set shot.
With a diffused light source, the edge of the shadow will be soft and smooth. The highlights on the reflective surfaces will be long and white.
Now, let's take a look at the same shot without diffusion.
Here is a look at the set shot.
With the hard light source, the shadow edges are hard and distinct and the reflections of the subject's surface are small white dots.
Here is a zoomed in side-by-side look.
Which do you prefer? I tend to like the diffused look more, but you will see publications that will have their food shot with a harder looking light. This is neither right nor wrong, it is just a preference of style. If you prefer a harder and edgier look to your food, try using a smaller harder light source. The examples I have given above are two extremes. You may find that for your style, you prefer to use a diffused light source, but a smaller one which will give a look that is somewhere in between the two. If you know that your client likes their shots with a higher contrast look, then try shooting your food with this look. I generally see harder and more distinct lighting styles on meats and grilled items. Take a look at magazines geared towards men and then at magazines geared towards women. You will notice that if they have a food or recipe section, you will see a difference in the lighting styles. As time progresses, trends and styles will certainly change. If you look at the cookbooks shot today and then at ones shot 30, 20, or 10 years ago, you will see that the lighting and propping styles will all be different. What is popular now, may not be popular one or five years from now. Don't be afraid to try a different style and see if it works for you.
Is there a certain quality of light that you prefer?